If your dog has just been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, you're probably still reeling from the news. Considering the massively important role the heart plays, there's no doubt that if it's not pumping enough blood into your dog's body, the consequences of congestive heart failure can be very, very serious.
However, while there are many causes of congestive heart failure and it can lead to a wide range of health problems, it's not all bad news. If caught early enough and treated properly, congestive heart failure can be treated and controlled, allowing your dog to live a normal life. Read on to find out how.
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Signs and Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
The heart provides blood and oxygen to the body's organs and tissues. But if a dog is suffering from congestive heart failure, this causes a weakening of the heart muscle and affects its ability to pump an adequate amount of blood throughout the body.
The most common signs of congestive heart failure are a loss of stamina, coughing, and difficulty breathing; however, the symptoms shown by an affected pet can vary depending on whether they're suffering from right-sided or left-sided failure.
Although we think of the heart as one organ, it's actually more or less two pumps put together. While the right side takes blood from the body and pumps it into the lungs to create oxygen, the left side is responsible for taking blood from the lungs and pumping it through the body for circulation.
Left-sided failure is the most common and it causes blood to back up and become congested in the lungs. This results in coughing, difficulty breathing and fluid in the chest.
Right-sided failure causes fluid to accumulate in the abdomen, interfering with the function of organs in this area, for example, the liver. Symptoms this produces include ascites, which is when the abdomen fills with fluid, and swelling of the limbs.
If you notice any of the telltale signs of congestive heart failure, make sure to have your pet examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Dropped Ears
- Difficulty breathing
- Excessive panting
- Loss of stamina
- Swollen belly
- Swollen limbs
- Fainting episodes
- Sudden death
The Science of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
There are several causes of congestive heart failure in dogs, and it can either be congenital or inherited. Some of the congenital defects that can lead to congestive heart failure include subaortic stenosis and ventricular septal defects, with these types of problems usually detected in younger animals.
Acquired congestive heart failure, however, more commonly occurs in older dogs due to a long list of reasons, including:
- Heartworm infection
- Old age
- High blood pressure
- Faulty heart rhythms
- Fluid in the sac surrounding the heart
One of the most common causes of congestive heart failure is chronic valve disease. This condition occurs when the heart's valves degenerate to the point where they no longer function properly and place an increased burden on the heart. It's estimated that this is responsible for around 80% of congestive heart failure cases.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is another frequently recorded cause. It leads to the enlargement of the heart's chambers, weakening the muscle walls until they're no longer able to effectively pump blood.
Whatever the cause of your dog's symptoms may be, it's essential to get them investigated by a veterinarian immediately. Upon hearing a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, some owners will worry that their pet may be at risk of suffering a heart attack. While heart attacks are possible, they're more of a human problem and rare in dogs.
Of course, it's worth pointing out that sudden and unexpected death is always a risk in a dog diagnosed with any form of heart disease.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
The heart is a complicated and important piece of anatomy, so diagnosing any form of heart problem is never completely straightforward. Instead, your veterinarian may rely on several tests in order to develop an accurate diagnosis. These include:
- Auscultation. This involves listening to the heart with a stethoscope to detect heart murmurs, monitor heart rhythm and assess the lungs.
- Chest x-rays. These are used to examine the size and shape of the heart and examine the lungs for changes caused by heart failure.
- Blood and urine tests. These are used to check for any other disorders in the body and also assess liver and kidney function.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG). This is used to measure the electrical activity of the heart and check heart rate and rhythm.
- Echocardiogram. This is an ultrasound exam to check the size and thickness of each heart chamber, assess the heart contractions and determine how efficiently it is pumping blood.
An accurate diagnosis is essential so that your vet can decide on the best form of treatment. There are many different treatment options available focused on controlling the condition and improving your dog's quality of life.
For example, your vet may prescribe medications designed to slow down the progression of heart disease, reduce fluid buildup, lower blood pressure, normalize heart rhythms, and improve overall heart function. While these medications won't cure congestive heart failure, they can make a huge difference to your dog's overall well-being.
The right diet is important, including controlling your dog's sodium intake, while exercise will need to be carefully controlled to reduce stress on the heart. Other treatment may also be required to address the underlying cause, for example, combating a heartworm infection.
The key thing to remember is that congestive heart failure doesn't spell the end for your pooch. There are several options available to help manage the condition, particularly if it's caught early, and your vet will be able to create a treatment plan tailored to the needs of your pet.
How to Care for Your Pet's heart:
If heart disease is caught early enough and treated properly, your pet could live for many years.
Medication can help prolong the lives of many pets, so make sure to follow your vet's dosage instructions.
Regular blood tests, radiographs, and echocardiograms may be necessary to monitor your pet's condition.
Ask your vet about how managing diet and exercise can help prolong your pet's life.